Ignoring investment in roading won’t help the environment, safety, or the economy

In News5 MinutesBy Nick LeggettMay 20, 2022

The road transport industry is concerned that we are not seeing an investment in roading from this Government; in fact, Transport Minister Michael Wood made it pretty clear this week that we are unlikely to get anything substantial in the way of new roads under this Government. He also stated that Transmission Gully probably wouldn’t have been built if Labour had had been the decision-maker.

Unfortunately, this is a case of ideology over practical reality. New roads won’t increase emissions if alternative technology slowly replaces the combustion engine. We will always need roads to connect us and secure supply. Instead of the Government intervening in the supply chain and thinking it can direct the movement of freight, we should be letting those that move freight work out how best to run their operations and over time, decarbonise. The Government could incentivise that through assisting with research and development and making better use of the Emissions Trading Scheme, which already prices carbon.

Transporting New Zealand this year released its rail and road report, which is available on our website here. The truth is that 93% of freight travels on the roads; 6% on rail; and about 1% on coastal shipping. We are open to more freight being moved on other modes of transport, but the reality is that rail just can’t deliver most of what New Zealand needs to be delivered – you can spend billions of dollars but you’re never going to back up a train to a farm gate or a supermarket.

Roads are the great connector and have been since the beginning of civilisation. We hear from truck drivers and trucking companies all around the country on a regular basis about the Third World condition of so many of our roads. That is where the Government should focus investment – not only to improve travel times but to improve safety and save lives. Along with road safety advocate Greg Murphy, we remain sceptical about the effectiveness of Road to Zero and we believe there needs to be greater emphasis on driving skills and behaviour to reduce accidents on our roads.

We have to reduce emissions, and this is absolutely the right thing to do, from a number of perspectives. The Government said this week that they are aiming to reduce transport emissions by about 30% in the next 13 years. That is ambitious – and I think it should be ambitious – but the technology to do that in any meaningful sense for heavy trucks just doesn’t exist at this point. As an industry we want there to be more low hanging fruit on offer. By that, I mean let’s work again on fuel-efficient driving; let’s motivate the Government to incentivise fleets to move to Euro Six and the emerging Euro Seven vehicle efficiency standards.

We would support congestion charges if they are a way of funding better transport infrastructure – that means roading and public transport. In cities and built-up areas where there is peak time congestion – if it’s cheaper, more efficient, better for the environment, and better for freight movement, and if there is really good, efficient, reliable public transport that takes people out of their cars – then a congestion charge would make sense. I think that there is this mistaken idea by the Government that they’re going to have congestion charges and get domestic vehicles off the roads, and that’s going to mean that they are not going to have to build new roads.

Factoring in projected population growth and a significant increase in the freight task, even if we reduce the number of cars on the roads, over time we are still going to see growth in the overall number of vehicles. We still have to keep investing in roading, particularly given the sub-standard quality of much of our current roading network. Transporting New Zealand will continue to lean on the government and make the case for better, safer roading developments around New Zealand.

By Nick Leggett, CEO, Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand